India got a big time wake up call at prime time this Saturday. The flat-looking pitch at the Hampshire Bowl decided to play its own little game and jolted the team out of their comfort zone giving its mil-lion fans a big scare. India’s fifth game against lower ranked Afghanistan saw them choke, splutter, gasp and sweat and cross the line by a whisker to win the nail biter by 11 runs.
This kind of turnaround offortunes in the International Cricket Council World Cup 2019 (WC19) didn’t spare England either and almost affected New Zealand. The host team, most favoured to win WC19, got drowned by a whirlpool caused by a bowler who many believe is past his prime. Lasith Malinga bowled his battle-scarred heart out to send the fancied hosts off the trail by a mile. Sri Lanka, who won the match by 20 runs, have suddenly opened the tournament which was, in a way, meandering towards the predictable.
Now, England is faced with the predicament of beating top teams including India, Australia and New Zealand if they have to qualify for the semifinal. Sri Lanka’s and Afghanistan’s showing has once again reiterated the age old adage that cricket is indeed a game of glorious uncertainties. The boys from the Emerald Island just may have inspired the Afghans, their Asian counterparts, to give their very best against India, a much fancied opponent.
When Sri Lanka announced their line up for WC19, there were many players who cricket fans had not heard about. Dimuth Karunaratne, the skipper had last played a One Day International for his country in 2015 and the only players, apart from Malinga, people had heard of were Angelo Matthews and Kushal Mendis. One can state that even their most ardent fan would not have expected the Lankans to pull the rug from under the legs of the tournament favourites the way they did at Leeds.
While on the fortunes of the Asian teams in tournament, one cannot help but admire the spirit shown by Bangladesh in their journey so far. The Bangla Tigers response to a mammoth total of 381 runs by title holders Australia was a fabulous effort. To score 333 runs and get as close as possible to the Hi-malayan target, against a champion team, was commendable. They reduced the run deficit to ensure their Net Run Rate continued to remain decent knowing it would be a decisive factor in qualifying for the semifinal.
If one looks at the expectations before the start of WC19, the dice was heavily loaded England’s way. For the top four qualifying slots, most experts had India and Australia, apart from the hosts, with the fourth place being the one contested for by the rest of the teams. Thankfully, the tournament has now become one that is loaded with suspense due to the performances by the lower ranked teams.
In a round robin format tournament such as this edition of the World Cup, all teams, fancied or otherwise, need to be on their guard. The 46-day WC19 will continue to see the roller coaster pattern of ups and downs and the fickle English weather will make things difficult for teams to make a come-back once they are headed southwards.
New Zealand, Australia India and England hold the top four positions with the Kiwis and India being the only unbeaten sides. England has three tough fixtures in hand against Australia, India and New Zealand while Australia will face off with New Zealand and South Africa apart from the hosts. The Kiwis will play against Pakistan, Australia and England. On paper, the draw looks relatively easy for India as they are slated to play West Indies, England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Virat Kohli has gone on record, time and again during WC19 to state that his team is not going to take any match lightly. Their recent record against these teams has been good and one would expect them to qualify for the semi-final. With the unpredictability of the West Indians (their last match gave tournament leaders, New Zealand, a cold sweat, losing by 5 runs), the resurgence of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, India will invite complacency in their camp at their own peril.
Peaking at the right time is imperative for any team if they are to pass the final hurdle and win the championship. England, going by their recent showing, may just have peaked too early.
India’s performance against Afghanistan shows that Kohli’s team has yet to find the balance they are looking for. Question is, will India peak at the right time?...